Catching up on paperwork, office door open, Dion hears a hush fall in the common area where the Popula have their desks. He stands and moves to the door to get a look from the upper floor. As he thought, Somrak has entered the station. Though the slender, leather-clad visiting officer pays it no mind, he must surely notice the Popula looking at him, some nervous, some admiring. Sergeant Machado, his bald pate gleaming like obsidian in the gaslight, glares at Somrak, one eye twitching as he scowls dangerously. For a moment Dion fears the mortal Sergeant will move to block Somrak’s way, confront him now in front of everyone, but Machado turns his back on the scar-faced Dei. Infuriatingly, the edge of Somrak’s mouth twitches in amusement. Though he did not so much as glance in Machado’s direction, he certainly took it in.
Even so, Dion exhales in relief – a public argument is just what he was hoping to avoid, and he counts himself extra lucky that Alma is in the basement talking to contractors about repairs.
Not that he really wants to deal with this. But it must be dealt with, and it happened on his watch, so he feels it is his duty.
He steps aside as Somrak ascends the stairs and approaches the office. Somrak’s head lowers slightly as he sights Dion’s stony expression, and he gives Dion that same dead hood-eyed glare that Dion has seen Tuma-Sukai use when a culprit is clearly about to resist arrest. That look that says, Don’t.
Somrak moves straight to the carafe of coffee and pours himself a cup, then sits loose-limbed at Alma’s desk. Though she has been put in charge during Sky’s absence, Alma had no desire to use Sky’s office. Dion suspected it was as much that she felt uncomfortable with any implication in her own mind or anyone else’s that she was taking Sky’s place, as with the simple fact that moving offices for only a week would be too much trouble. But it didn’t seem right to let the temporary officer take it, either, even if he was Sky’s former partner, so she graciously offered Somrak the use of her desk while she was off duty.
And now to see him insolently draped over Alma’s chair, coffee mug in hand, looking up at Dion with a look that seems to say, You don’t have the nerve, kid – Dion feels his anger threatening to boil over into a rage. Somrak may have decades more experience as Guardia, may be one of the Commander’s fabled shadowy ‘agents’, Guardia who take care of problems that the Guardia cannot officially touch, but Dion has faced down dragons and demons. He has fought and killed Dukaine gods and demigods, and has defeated an Archon in battle, and bent the God Striker to his will. He’s not going to be made to back down by some semi-legal pseudo-Guardia thug.
Even so, he must admit that Somrak’s expression does provoke just a hint of hesitation. But he pushes past it. A whispered word and a simple touch to the wall make the room magically soundproof. Dion breathes deeply.
“Rio Novo,” he states, simply and coldly.
Somrak sighs, sets down his mug. “Fine. What about it?”
“What in Hell were you thinking?” Dion asks, voice leveled but strained. He moves closer to the desk, feeling his body stiff with tension.
Somrak leans back in the chair, one elbow propped on the chair arm and hand gesturing idly as he makes a show of putting his feet on the desk. “I was just walking home, minding my own business.”
It irritates Dion to no end, the way the fire god seems to be actually enjoying this. The despondent act feels like a challenge, like Somrak is stepping on Dion’s toes just to see what he will do. Dion prepares for a fight. If Somrak thinks the magic god has never had to establish dominance by force, he is very wrong.
“Sky’s building is in the opposite direction,” Dion states flatly, putting a hand on Somrak’s left foot and dragging it toward the edge of the desk.
Somrak allows his right foot to fall off the edge but resists Dion’s pushing with his left foot. His foot starts feeling warmer and warmer and his eyes begin to glow faintly as he smiles predaciously. “Yes. I got lost.”
“And that is your way of asking for directions?” Dion inquires, stone-faced, eyes flaring gold, making sure to keep his hand on the god’s foot, even if he is already being forced to envelope his hand in a mirror spell that stores and reflects against Somrak all the heat that the fire god is emanating from his foot.
Somrak tilts his head, barely trying to keep his clueless innocent act. “Do you think they misunderstood me?”
Dion lunges forward, bending over the fire god until his face is but a hand’s width away from Somrak. “Do I really look that stupid to you, Somrak?” he growls with more than a hint of something big and scaly behind his voice.
Somrak holds Dion’s glare and does not reply immediately but instead turns his face slowly to look to his left, at Alma’s desktop. Dion cannot help but follow his gaze. An icy blast of realization shoots down his spine, his eyes widen in shock as Dion sees his own hand on the desk, surrounded by flame. In his anger, the magic god must have let his hand slip onto the wooden surface and the heat gathered in his spell must have been enough to set Alma’s desk on fire.
Somrak easily cancels the flame and Dion stands up straight and slowly, anger washed away from him. He looks away from the fire god, shocked and ashamed. This is not the best way to help Alma. He should have kept better control of his actions. If this was a way to establish hierarchy, Dion has just lost the alpha post to the newcomer.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, he admonishes himself.
And then Somrak does something surprising. He rejects his prize and becomes reasonable.
“I don’t think you are stupid in any way,” the god says, removing his foot from Alma’s desk and straightening in her chair. “I think you know exactly what happened. I just don’t know why it bothers you so much.”
Dion walks over to the chair that always sits in front of Alma’s desk and lets himself fall onto the hard wooden seat. He feels defeated and wishes nothing but to leave. Still, he knows the conversation is far from over. Only a coward runs from his own mistakes.
And then again, he thinks bitterly. Isn’t that what I did when I first came here?
He rubs his face with his hand, feeling suddenly exhausted. He hasn’t had much sleep. The wait for this confrontation with Somrak has kept him awake and the little wisps of fitful sleep he has managed to get have done more to drain him than to help his condition.
“There was not a single divine there,” he says, voice calm but tinged with tiredness. “Do you think you were the only one who knew where they lurked? That Alma did not share the information with me and the Popula downstairs? Machado had a raid ready to go. And then you happened.”
Somrak leans back in his chair, looking intently at the scorch mark on the desk. Somehow it seems to bother him as much as it does Dion. “I heard there were problems. Went to take a look.” He speaks slowly as if trying to process Dion’s words. “Walked through the neighborhood, didn’t say a word. They attacked me with deadly force. I defended myself. They have no case against the Guardia, if that worries you. And they’re no longer causing problems for the people there.”
Dion draws a sigil with his hand and Alma’s desk is restored to its former self. The god makes sure not to restore too much, fixing the burn mark but leaving the faint marks left by Alma’s favorite coffee cup and the little scratches of where the butt of her pen has hit the wood repeatedly while the goddess tried to find the perfect word for a report or tried to make sense of a particular strange crime scene. They are traces of her presence there and he doesn’t want them erased.
“It’s not about protecting our hides,” Dion states stoically. “It’s about doing things as they are meant to be done.”
“So you’d rather have the Popula go in and risk life and limb to achieve the same result?” Somrak asks, seeming to struggle with the concept.
Dion breathes in deeply. He should have let Alma deal with this.
“Listen, I understand that this,” he gestures at the desk and the office, “is not how you are used to doing things. And while I have been in the Guardia for a considerably shorter time, I have always called a station my home while your record speaks of zero station experience. This is not a focal operation. What you do is commendable but in the long run, it generates resentment against us. And we need these people to trust us. We have been here for weeks and we are just finding the first reliable sources, breaking through the ingrained thoughts in these people that all Guardia bend or break the law as badly as criminals. And you go and use information from one of Alma’s sources like that?”
He shakes his head. “Tell me, if we disrespect the law as much as these felons do, why should regular people trust us?”
Somrak looks at him in silence for several heartbeats before nodding subtly. “Sgt Alma may well send me packing. Even if she doesn’t, I’ll be gone soon. … I’ll do it your way for the rest of my stay, however short it might be.”
“She won’t send you away,” Dion reassures him. “I spoke to her at the turning of our shifts and told her I would settle this with you. This is her first commission in the lead. She’d do well without this weighing on her shoulders.”
Somrak seems somewhat surprised by this but pleased at the same time. He nods, this time more fully, acknowledging Dion’s peace offering. “All right… Thanks.”
The fire god stretches his arms above his head before leaning back, legs crossed as he looks at Dion in mild frustration. “Well assuming I’m not leaving right away, is there a better way I can earn my keep? You know what I’m for. There has to be something I can do around here other than look at the mystifying reports that Sage insists on bringing me.”
Dion looks at him without saying a word. This bit of conversation was not planned in the script of any of the dozens of versions of this discussion that Dion has rehearsed in his mind while he should be sleeping. Should he say anything? Should he be quiet? Where can Somrak help?
And then it comes to him.
“Oh, Alma will kill me…” he mutters to himself. “Especially after Rio Novo.”
Should he mention it?
“Why would she kill you?” Somrak asks, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees, eyes locked on Dion’s.
Dion curses himself for muttering. “This is a bad idea.”
But Somrak is like a hunting dog fixed on the scent of a particularly fat rabbit, in intrigued, hungry grin forming on his scarred face. “Oh, come on… What is it?”
Dion hangs his head. Too late to back down now. “Our most important case involves a necromancer.”
“Yes, I’ve read the report,” Somrak concedes.
“Sky has given Alma the lead but unofficially, he and I have been looking around for clues as well,” Dion explains, getting up and walking over to his desk. “Even if she does insist on keeping us at arm’s length on that. Death Clan issues.”
“The chance to see Alma in a rage is too good to pass up,” Somrak comments.
Dion opens the second drawer on the right, the one he keeps locked with a spell and fumbles inside. “You only say that because you weren’t there with Nekh. Or when Sage was taken. Or when we smuggled the Bunnies out of Three Rats.” He stops fumbling for a moment, remembering all the times he has seen the goddess’ beautiful face flushed with anger. “Come to think about it, she does get angry quite often. Terrible sight. Now, where did I put it?”
Somrak’s head cranes to watch Dion’s every movement, even if he tries very hard not to look curious at all. “Well I’ve seen the results of two out of three of those, and I was quite impressed.”
Dion finally finds what he was looking for. He takes a small round amulet out of the drawer. It is metallic and coppery in tone, although Dion is quite sure that it is made of some other metal. Flat and no bigger than two fingers’ width, it bears the engraved image of a hideous, two-headed beast with definitely too many tongues on one side, while the other simply has a myriad of squiggly, nonsensical lines, almost like a very drunk map.
He brings it back to Somrak, placing it on Alma’s desk. “Have you ever seen one of these in your travels?”
Somrak studies the amulet, sitting forward, looking at it more intently by the moment. His face becomes serious. “This is more Sky’s specialty. Have you shown it to him yet?”
“I found it on one of the elementalists we captured the night Sky decided it was time to rest,” Dion explains, walking back to the drawer and taking out the wristbands, now deactivated, that the elementalists used to control the elementals. “Along with these.”
Somrak waits for him to lay them out on the desk and inspects them. “They were binding elementals, eh? I’m guessing – just guessing, mind – that these allowed them to bind much more powerful creatures than they normally could have handled.” He pushes the items away from him. “I’m not sure if they could be used for summoning anything else. Or if the summoners knew that summoning demons would’ve landed them a death sentence.”
Dion shakes his head. “I interrogated them for hours and so did Alma. The amulet, one of them said, was their way into a traveling black market. Powerful items, like these. Most imbued with some sort of demonic power. Or so the sellers would say. I can tell you the magic in these items is not clean. There’s a demonic taint there, faint but I caught it.”
He retrieves both amulet and wristbands to the drawer and reactivates the magic lock. “If you need a mission to keep you busy, we need to find that market. Maybe our necromancer shops there.”
Somrak rubs his scar. “It’s a good thing you didn’t tell Sky about this. He’d still be awake, trying to find the place. I’ll get on it. But…I’m not local. Do you have anybody I could partner with? And…no offense, but you’re too recognizable. Somebody who won’t be spotted for Guardia.”
Dion tries to make a mental list of possible choices and grimaces. There is only one name there.
“This is why I don’t like this type of investigation…” he mutters. “Saira is my only possible choice.” He sits down in his desk chair. “But if you get her killed or hurt, I will have my soul ripped from my body and thrown into Hell. And yours will be next.”
“Saira…” Somrak considers.
“How on the Insula we will be able to convince Alma to let her do this is beyond me,” Dion notes, nodding grimly.
“I think Alma will be smart enough to convince herself,” Somrak ventures. “Especially if Saira is recovered.”
Dion looks at the fire god, blinking in disbelief at the words. “Suddenly, I am rather tempted to find something to do elsewhere while that conversation is happening.”
Somrak laughs softly. “Now I’m more intrigued than ever.” He jerks his head at the door. “Go get some sleep. I’ve got this.”